A lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn at random for a prize. Some governments outlaw lotteries, while others endorse them and organize state-sponsored or private ones. In the United States, most states and the District of Columbia have lotteries. Some are multistate games, such as Powerball and Mega Millions, while others offer state-only games.

The earliest recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the fifteenth century to raise funds for town fortifications and the poor. They used numbered tickets and prizes in the form of goods, such as dinnerware.

Today, most lotteries use computers to record the identities of bettors and their amounts staked. The computer system then shuffles the numbers and identifies the winners. Most state-run lotteries also sell numbered receipts for bettors to purchase. These are deposited in a pool for drawing and can be checked later to determine whether the bettor won.

The National Lottery Association (NASPL) reports that there were approximately 186,000 retailers selling lottery tickets in 2003. These include convenience stores, supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants and bars, drugstores, churches and fraternal organizations, and newsstands. In addition, some Internet sites and independent companies are authorized to sell state lottery tickets. Many of these operate on a commission basis. Some lottery websites offer free entry into the lottery for new customers, as well as promotional offers such as free scratch-off tickets. In addition, many of these sites are operated by affiliates of NASPL.